Blog: It’s time for the chancellor to make good on his promise on pay

The spring statement comes as inflation is at a 30-year high, with UNISON members struggling to feed their families. Rishi Sunak must act

woman's hands holding empty purse

The chancellor’s spring statement will be presented to Parliament this week. It’s an opportunity to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and prevent the worst real-terms squeeze in half a century.

I wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week urging him to take that opportunity and make good on his promise to end the public sector pay freeze.

Inflation, now at a 30-year high, is hitting UNISON members hard. Many have been contacting me to say how they’re struggling to feed their families, pay their rents and mortgages, cover their energy bills, and fill up at the pump.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, fuel and energy prices were already increasing at the fastest rate in a generation, and the war has only exacerbated this.

Nearly a third of UK households are forced to choose between heating and eating, and almost half of the UK’s children are in households that can’t meet the costs of basic necessities.

But it’s not too late – if the chancellor makes the right choices.

Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. No-one should go cold or hungry, but this relies on politicians getting a grip on sky-rocketing costs and declining pay. If they can find billions of pounds to waste on dodgy contracts throughout the pandemic, then they can find the £10bn needed to end the public sector pay freeze.

The spring statement must also include an increase to the national minimum wage and the living wage, scrapping planned tax rises for workers, reinstating the universal credit uplift, together with meaningful action on the costs of energy, fuel, food, housing and childcare.

Even though public sector workers have been the force that has carried our society through the pandemic, they now stand to carry the heaviest financial burden.

As prices spiral, any wage increase short of inflation is a pay cut. And as the cost-of-living crisis will increase demand on our public services, we need to retain our experienced public sector workforce and recruit more to deal with understaffing. But a pay cut is not an incentive, it’s an insult.

We already know that adding more pressures on public services doesn’t go well. Everybody suffers when our friends and family have to wait longer for hospital appointments, when older people can’t access care, when our communities suffer from rising crime, and when our children are taught in bigger classes with fewer resources.

UNISON and the whole trade union movement are calling for urgent action, because we already know what dire consequences we all face. The chancellor has the chance to put things right on Wednesday, and millions of workers will be watching to see what choices he makes.

But he should be in no doubt – our members are angry, as are those in many other unions. We’ll continue to work with trade unions across the UK to do whatever it takes to protect workers and their families.